Newswise — Functional foods are at the threshold of unprecedented influence on public health and disease prevention. A new expert report declares that advances in science and food technology are growing so rapidly that the food industry and government must quicken their pace to ensure food's greatest benefits on public health.

The report, Functional Foods: Opportunities and Challenges, commissioned by the not-for-profit scientific society Institute of Food Technologists, was released here today. It is an exhaustive review of current methods, and emphasizes recommendations to accelerate future research and development, regulation and marketing of functional foods.

The report advises that functional foods be brought to market in a new, seven-step, scientific process. One part of the process introduces Generally Recognized As Efficacious, patterned after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's successful Generally Recognized As Safe review. The report deems that economic incentives such as tax breaks, market exclusivity or a combination of both would serve as catalysts for increasing food company investment in functional food research. And it urges that label claims on functional foods reflect scientific evidence, driving consumer understanding of dietary components for health.

The expert report calls for expanded research on traditional nutrients, other bioactive food components, and the intersection of genomics and molecular nutrition.

"Functional foods should be integral components of public health programs to reduce the risk of specific diseases," according to Fergus Clydesdale, Ph.D., chair of the IFT Expert Panel and co-author of the report, and department head of food science at University of Massachusetts.

"The functional foods currently available represent only a fraction of the potential opportunities for consumers to manage their health through diet," said Clydesdale. "It is imperative to further research to validate full effectiveness and establish appropriate dietary levels."

The IFT report defines functional foods as foods and food components that provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. This includes conventional foods, fortified, enriched or enhanced foods, and dietary supplements.

Functional foods can enhance performance and deliver benefits for conditions such as coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and neural tube defects. The report notes that researchers have identified food components that may improve memory, reduce arthritis, and provide other benefits heretofore limited to drugs. It states that future benefits might include foods for increased energy, mental alertness, and better sleep.

Discoveries in genetics make it possible to understand the effects of nutrients in processes at the molecular level in the body and also the variable effects of dietary components on the individual. The report predicts that consumers could tailor their diets to meet changing health goals and different requirements at different ages.

This is the third Expert Report commissioned by IFT, following the release of Biotechnology and Foods (2000) and Emerging Microbiological Food Safety Issues (2002). This new report is available online at

Founded in 1939, and with world headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, USA, the Institute of Food Technologists is a not-for-profit international scientific society with 26,000 members working in food science, technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues. For more on IFT, see

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Functional Foods Expert Report